Chess piece

  • Mark Goodburn, Leadership |

For decades, a defensive strategy has served organizations well against new rivals or challenges. The problem today is; with unprecedented technology, social and environmental change; a defensive posture doesn’t prepare the organization to face the future. 

CEOs are increasingly deciding to write a new chapter in organizational resiliency – which goes far beyond ‘a good defense in downtimes,’ and instead takes an offensive stance focused on agility and growth. Today’s CEOs may have to champion difficult organizational change or advocate for significant investment in support of meaningful transformation.

In the 2019 Global CEO Outlook, our annual survey of more than 1,300 global CEOs, we found that business leaders are highly-attuned to the new threats they must navigate to arm their organizations for an uncertain future. Leading organizations are also highly motivated by the opportunities this may present if they are, in fact, the disruptor.  

With lower levels of confidence in the global economy, and a recognition of climate, technology and geopolitical risks, these CEOs acknowledged that they are in a new competitive age. In fact, 71 percent say that their organization’s growth relies on their ability to challenge and disrupt any business norm. That’s a big change from defensive strategies grounded solely in slashing prices, reducing costs or waiting out a threat.

These CEOs see that, beyond short-term reactive tactics, they must address the central beliefs and cultures that have shaped their companies and industries for many years. Resiliency means going on the offensive and disrupting their own legacy strategies and business models. 

But how to do so? This is a question I hear from nearly every CEO I meet as they consider how to better drive their business in a digital world. And it’s a question with no simple answer either, since our survey found that many CEOs have doubts about their organization’s current ability to lead disruption. 

Fortunately, answers can be found in the transformative actions taken by leading organizations. For example, 84 percent of CEOs say they are actively transforming their own leadership teams to build resilience and 71 percent are focused on turning information security into a strategic function. Every day I hear stories of disruption percolating from established or incumbent companies that have effectively created their own digital edge. 

While it’s not a simple matter of choosing an ‘offense or defense’ approach, it’s clear that CEOs must re-consider the traditional playbook to face a new generation of threats and opportunities. Resiliency is no longer defined by an organization’s ability to wait out a danger. Rather, sustainable growth relies on taking strategic steps to change an organization from the inside out, with a bold, forward-looking, posture.

Complacency is fatal in today’s dynamic market.